In the fall of 1979, the author returned to a high school he had attended briefly some years back. He registered as a student under an assumed name with the cooperation of the principal, who was the only one to know the secret. Because of his youthful appearance, he was never under suspicion and was able to mingle freely in the classrooms, the schoolyard, the students’ homes and the fast-food parlors that were the focus of the lives of the kids in a typical town in California. The author has changed the name of the school, its location and the names of the students and teachers with whom he lived. The events and the dialog, however, are real.
Stacy Hamilton took her seat in U.S. history on the first day of school. The third and final attendance bell rang.
The teacher came barreling down the aisle, then made a double-speed step to the green metal front door of the U.S. history bungalow. He kicked the door shut and locked it with the dead bolt. The windows rattled in their frames. This man knew how to take the front of a classroom.
“Aloha,” he said. “The name is Mr. Hand.”
There was a lasting silence. He wrote his name on the blackboard. Every letter was a small explosion of chalk.
“I have but one question for you on our first morning together,” the man said. “Can you attend my class?”
He scanned the classroom full of curious sophomores, all of them with roughly the same look on their faces– there goes another summer.
Mr. Hand let his students take a good long look at him. In high school, where such crucial matters as confidence and social status can shift daily, there is one thing a student can depend on. Most people in high school look like their names. Mr. Hand was a perfect example. He had a porous, oblong face, just like a thumbprint. His stiff black hair rose up off his forehead like that of a late-night television evangelist. Even at eight in the morning, his yellow Van Heusen shirt was soaked at the armpits.
And he was not Hawaiian.
The strange saga of Mr. Hand had been passed down to Stacy Hamilton by her older brother Brad. Arnold Hand, Ridgemont’s U.S. history instructor, was one of those teachers. His was a special brand of eccentricity, the kind preserved only through California state seniority laws. Mr. Hand had been at Ridgemont High for years, waging his highly theatrical battle against what he saw as the greatest threat to the youth of this land–truancy.
Mr. Hand’s other favorite activity was hailing the virtues of the three-bell system. At Ridgemont, the short first bell meant a student had three minutes to prepare for the end of the class. The long second bell dismissed the class. Then there were exactly seven minutes- and Mr. Hand claimed that he personally fought the Education Center for those seven minutes-before the third and last attendance bell. If you did not have the ability to obey the three-bell system, Mr. Hand would say, then it was aloha time for you. You simply would not function in life.
“And functioning in life,” Mr. Hand said grandly on that first morning, “is the hidden postulate of education.”
At the age of 58, Mr. Hand had no inten tion of leaving Ridgemont. Why, in the past ten years, be had just begun to hit his stride. He had found one man, that one man who embodied all the proper authority and power to exist “in the jungle.” It didn’t bother him that his role model happened to be none other than Steve McGarrett, the humorless chief detective of Hawaii Five-0.
First-year U.S. history students, sensing something slightly odd about the man, would inch up to Mr. Hand a few days into the semester. “Mr. Hand,” they would ask timidly, “how come you act like that guy on Hawaii Five-0?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
It was, of course, much too obvious for his considerable pride to admit. But Mr. Hand pursued his students as tirelessly as McGarrett pursued his weekly criminals, with cast-iron emotions and a paucity of words. Substitute truancy for drug traffic, missed tests for robbery, U.S. history for Hawaii, and you had a class with Mr. Hand. Little by little, his protean personality had been taken over by McGarrett. He became possessed by Five-O. He even got out of his Oldsmobile sedan in the mornings at full stand, whipping his head both ways, like McGarrett.
“History,” Mr. Hand had barked on that first morning, “U.S. or otherwise, has proved one thing to us. Man does not do anything that is not for his own good. It is for your own good that you attend myclass. And if you cant make it … I can make you.”
An impatient knock began at the front door of the bungalow, but Mr. Hand ignored it.
“There will be tests in this class,” he said immediately. “We have a twenty-question quiz every Friday. It will cover all the material we’ve dealt with during the week. There will be no make-up exams. You can see it’s important that you have your Land of Truth and Liberty textbook by Wednesday at the latest.”
The knock continued.
“Your grade in this class is the average of all your quizzes, plus the mid-term and the
final, which counts for one third.” The door knocker now sounded a lazy calypso beat. No one dared mention it.
“Also. There will be no eating in this class. I want you to get used to doing your business on your time. That’s one demand I make. You do your business on your time, and I do my business on my time. I don’t like staying after class with you on detention. That’s my time. Just like you wouldn’t want me to come to your house some evening and discuss U.S. history with you on your time. Pakalo?”
Mr. Hand finally turned, as if he had just noticed the sound at the door, and began to approach the green metal barrier between him and his mystery truant. He opened the door only an inch.
“Yeah,” said the student, a surfer. “I’m registered for this class.”
“Really?” Mr. Hand appeared enthralled.
“Yeah,” said the student, holding his allimportant red add card up to the crack in the door. “This is U.S. history, right? I saw the globe in the window.”
Jeff Spicoli, a Ridgemont legend since third grade, lounged against the doorframe. His long dirty-blond hair was parted exactly in the middle. He spoke thickly, like molasses pouring from ajar. Most every school morning, Spicoli awoke before dawn, smoked three bowls of marijuana from a small steel bong, put on his wet suit and surfed before school. He was never at school on Fridays, and on Mondays only when he could handle it. He leaned a little into the room, red eyes glistening. His long hair was still wet, dampening the back of his white peasant shirt.
“May I come in?”
“Oh, please,” replied Mr. Hand. “I get so lonely when that third attendance bell rings and I don’t see all my kids here.”
The surfer laughed-he was the only one-and handed over his red add card. ”Sorry I’m late. This new schedule is totally confusing.”
Mr. Hand read the card aloud with utter fascination in his voice. “Mr. Spicoli?”
“Yes, sir. That’s the name they gave me.”
Mr. Hand slowly tore the red add card into little pieces, effectively destroying the very existence of Jeffrey Spicoli, 15, in the Redondo school system. Mr. Hand sprinkled the little pieces over his wastebasket.
It took a moment for the words to work their way out of Spicoli’s mouth.
“You dick ”
Mr. Hand cocked his head. He appeared poised on the edge of incredible violence. There was a sudden silence while the class wondered exactly what he might do to the surfer. Deck him? Throw him out of Ridgemont? Shoot him at sunrise?
But Mr. Hand simply turned away from Spicoli as if the kid had just ceased to exist. Small potatoes. Mr. Hand simply continued with his first-day lecture.
“I’ve taken the trouble,” he said, “to print up a complete schedule of class quizzes and the chapters they cover. Please pass them to all the desks behind you.”
Spicoli remained at the front of the class, his face flushed, still trying to sort out what had happened. Mr. Hand coolly counted out stacks of his purple mimeographed assignment sheets. After a time, Spicoli fished a few bits of his red add card out of the wastebasket and huffed out of the room.
“So,” said Mr. Hand just before the last bell, “let’s recap. First test on Friday. Be there. Aloha.”
A Bitchin’ Dream
Jeff Spicoli had been having a dream. A totally bitchin’ dream.
He had been standing in a deep, dark void. Then he detected a sliver of light in the distance. A cold hand pushed him toward the light. He was being led to something important. That much he knew.
As Spicoli drew closer, the curtains sud denly opened and a floodlit vision was revealed to him. It was a wildly cheering studio audience-for him!-and there, applauding from his Tonight Show desk, was Johnny Carson.
Because it was the right thing to do, and because it was a dream, anyway, Spicoli gave the band a signal and launched into a cocktail rendition of AC/DC’s Highway to Hell. When it was over, he took a seat next to Carson.
“How are ya?” said Johnny, lightly touching Spicoli’s arm.
“Bitchin’, Johnny. Nice to be here. I feel great.”
“I was going to say,” said Carson, “your eyes look a little red.”
“I’ve been swimming, Johnny.”
The audience laughed. It was a famous Spicoli line.
“Swimming? In the winter?”
“Yes,” said Spicoli, “and may a swim ming beaver make love to your masticating sister.”
That broke Johnny up. Spicoli recrossed his legs and smiled serenely. “Seriously Johnny, business is good. I was thinking about picking up some hash this weekend, maybe go up to the mountains.”
“I want to talk a little bit about school, said Carson.
“School. “ Spicoli sighed. “School is no problem. All you have to do is go, to get the grades. And if you know anything, all you have to do is go half the time.”
“How often do you go?”
“I don’t go at all,” said Spicoli.
The audience howled again. He is Carson’s favorite guest.
“I hear you brought a film dip with You. said Carson. “Do you want to set it up for us?”
“Well, it pretty much speaks for itself said Spicoli. “Freddie, you want to run with it?”
The film clip begins. It is a mammoth wave cresting against the blue sky.
“Johnny;” continued Spicoli. “this is the action down at Sunset Cliffs at about six in the morning.”
A tiny figure appears in the foot of the wave.
“That’s me.** said Spicoli.
The audience gasped.
“You’re not going to ride that wave, are you, Jeff?”
“You got it,” said Spicoli.
He catches the perfect wave and it hurtles him through a turquoise tube of water.
“What’s going through your mind right here. Jeff % The danger of it all ”
“Johnny;” said Spicoli. “I’m thinking here that I (ail have about four good hours of surfing left before all those little clowns from Paul Revere Junior High start showing up with their boogie boards.”
The audience howled once again, and then Spicoli’s brother-that little fucker-woke him up.
Blow Job Lessons
A new girl from Phoenix, Arizona, had transferred into Stacy’s child-development class. She looked a little scared standing at the front of the class. When Mrs. Melon placed her at Stacy’s table. Stacy decided to make friends with her.
Her name was Laurie Beckman. She was a doctor’s daughter. She wanted to raise horses. She was a friendly girl, if a little shy and she wore braces. Stacy had introduced her to Linda Barrett and the three had taken to eating lunch together. It wasn’t long before I realized what a gold mine of sexual expertise was sitting before her every lunch period. Within two weeks. she was already into the hard stuff.
“Did you see that movie Carrie?” asked Laurie. “Do you know when John Travolta gets that girl to give him a blow-job?
“Do you do that?”
Stacy looked at Linda.
“Of course,” said Linda. “Don’t you know how?”
“Not really:” Pause. “They don’t talk about it in sex ed.”
“It’s no big deal.” said Linda. “Bring a banana to lunch tomorrow and I’ll show you.”
The next day; Laurie brought a banana to school. The three girls sat down together on the very outskirts of lunch court. Linda peeled the banana and handed it back to Laurie.
“Now, what you’ve got to do,” she instructed. “is treat it firmly but carefully. Move up and down and hold it at the bottom.”
“When am I supposed to do this?”
“Do it now.”
“Give it a try;” said Stacy, in fine deputy
Laurie looked casually to the right, then to the left. Then she mouthed the banana.
“Is that right” she asked.
Her braces had created wide divots down the sides of the banana.
“You should try to be a little more careful,” said Linda. She watched as Laurie tried again, with similar results.
“I have a question.” said Laurie. “What happens?”
“What do you mean?”
“What happens … I mean, I’ve never asked anyone about this-right?-and … and don’t laugh at me. OK…?”
“Just say it, Laurie.”
“OK, like when a guy has an orgasm….” Laurie sighed heavily. “You know … I’ve always wondered … how much comes out?”
Linda leaned forward and stared Laurie
in both eyes. “Quarts.”
“Quarts? Laurie’s eves popped.
Stacy slugged Linda. “Don’t do that to her.”
“OK . . . not that much,” said Linda. “You shouldn’t worry about it. Really.”
Laurie looked relieved as she stared down at the peeled banana still in her
A Late Night Phone Conversation
“There’s one thing you didn’t tell me about guys.” said Stacy. “You didn’t tell me that they can be so nice, so great … but then you sleep with them and they start acting like they’re about five years old.”
“You’re right,” said Linda. I didn’t tell you about that.”
Aloha Mr. Hand
It was nearly the end of the line. The awards were about to be announced, mimeographed caps-and-gowns information had gone out to the seniors along with Grad Nite tickets. The annuals were almost ready: Spicoli was counting the hours.
Since Spicoli was a sophomore, an underclassman, there weren’t many graduation functions he could attend. Tonight was one of the few, and he wasn’t about to miss it. It was the Ditch Day party, the evening blowout of the day that underclassmen secretly selected toward the end of the year to ditch en masse. Spicoli hadn’t been at school all day, and now he was just about ready to leave the house for the party out in Del Mar. He hadn’t eaten all day: He wanted the full effect of the hallucinogenic mushrooms he’d procured just for the poor man’s Grad Nite-Ditch Night.
Spicoli had taken just a little bit of one mushroom, just to check the potency. He could feel it coming on now as he sat in his room surrounded by his harem of naked women and surf posters. It was just a slight buzz, like a few hits off the bong. Spicoli knew they were good mushrooms. But if he didn’t leave soon. he might be too high to drive before he reached the party. One had to craft his buzz, Spicoli was fond of saying.
Downstairs the doorbell rang. There was an unusual commotion in the living room.
“Who is it, Mom?”
“You’ve got company, Jeffrey! He’s coming up the stairs right now. I can’t stop him!”
There was a brief knock at the door. ”Come in.”
The door opened and Spicoli stood in stoned shock. There before him was The Man.
“Mr…. Mr. Hand.”
“That’s right, Jeff. Mind if I come in? Thank you, Mr. and Mrs. Spicoli,” Mr. Hand called back down the stairs. He took off his suit jacket and laid it on the chair. ”Were you going somewhere tonight,Jeff?”
“Ditch Night! I’ve gotta go to Ditch Night!”
“I’m afraid we’ve got some things to discuss, Jeff.”
There were some things you just didn’t see very often, Spicoli was thinking. You didn’t see black surfers, for example. And you didn’t see Baja Riders for less than $20 a pair. And you sure didn’t see Mr. Fucking Hand sitting in your room.
“Did I do something, Mr. Hand?”
Mr. Hand opened his briefcase and began taking out lecture notes. He laid them out for himself on Spicoli’s desk. “Are you going to be sitting there?”
“I don’t know. I guess so.”
“Fine. You sit right there on your bed. I’ll use the chair here.” Mr. Hand stopped to stare down last month’s Playmate. ”Tonight is a special night, Jeff. As I explained to your parents just a moment ago, and to you many times since the very beginning of the year, I don’t like to spend my time waiting for students in detention. I’d rather be preparing the lesson.
“According to my calculations, Mr. Spicoli, you wasted a total of eight hours of my time this year. And rest assured that is a kind estimate.
“But now Spicoli, comes a rare moment for me. Now I have the unique pleasure of squaring our accounts. Tonight, you and I are going to talk in great detail about the David Amendment…. Now if you can turn to chapter forty-seven of Land of Truth and Liberty….”
“Would you like an iced tea, Mr. Hand?” Mrs. Spicoli called through the door.
Jeff was still orienting himself to what was happening. Was he too high? Was this real? He was not going to Ditch Night. That was it. He was going to stay in his room tonight with Mr. Hand … to talkabout the David Amendment.
“I’d love some iced tea,” said Mr. Hand. ”Whenever you get the time….”
Now, Mr. Hand had said they’d be there all night, but at 7:45 he wound up with the battle of Saratoga and started packing up.
“Is that it?”
“I think I’ve made my point with you, Jeff”
“You mean I can go to Ditch Night after all?”
“I don’t care what you do with your time, Mr. Spicoli.”
Spicoli jumped up and reached to shake Mr. Hand’s hand.
“Hey, Mr. Hand,” said Spicoli, “can I ask you a question?”
“Do you have a guy like me every year? A guy to … I don’t know, make a show of. Teach the other kids lessons and stuff?”
Mr. Hand finished packing and looked at the surfer who’d hounded him all year long. “Well,” he said, “why don’t you come back next year and find out?”
“No way,” said Spicoli. “I’m not going to be like those guys who come back and hang around your classroom. I’m not even coming over to your side of the building. When I pass, I’m outa there.”
“If you pass.”
Spicoli was taken aback. Not pass? No thumbing up the Coast, meeting ladies and going to Hawaii for the dyno lobster season? Summer school? “Not passing?” he said.
Mr. Hand broke into the nearest thing to a grin, for him. It wasn’t much, of course, but it was noticeable to Jeff. His lips crinkled at the ends. That was plenty for Mr. Hand.
“Don’t worry Spicoli,” said Mr. Hand. ”You’ll probably squeak by. ”
“Aloha, Spicoli ”
“Aloha, Mr. Hand.”
Mr. Hand descended the stairway of the Spicoli home, went out the door and on to his car, which he had parked just around the corner-always use the element of surprise. Mr. Hand knew one day next year he would look to that green metal door and it would be Spicoli standing there. He’d act like he had a million other things to do, and then he’d probably stay all day. All his boys came back sooner or later.
Mr. Hand drove back to his small apartment in Richard’s Bay to turn on his television and catch the evening’s Five-O rerun.
Fast Times at Ridgemont High – A True Story – Cameron Crowe